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What’s on tap? Chloramines in your drinking water

WHAT ARE CHLORAMINES?

Chloramines are chemical compounds used as disinfectants and are formed when ammonia is added to chlorine to treat drinking water. Monochloramine is the specific type of chloramine used in drinking water disinfection.

HOW CHLORAMINE GETS INTO OUR WATER

As water moves from streams, rivers and lakes, and into our homes, it’s common for it to pick up harmful bacteria like giardia and cryptosporidium, and other viruses. To prevent germ-contaminated water from making people sick, disinfectants — chlorine or chloramine — is added to drinking water by city or municipal water systems.

What is chloramination?

Chloramination is the process of adding chloramine to drinking water at levels to kill germs but keep it safe to drink. Its use dates back to 1929 when it was added as a drinking water disinfectant in cities including Cleveland, Ohio, Springfield, Illinois, and Lansing, Michigan. Today, chloramine and chlorine are the most common disinfectants used in public water systems. While the World Health Organization describes chemical disinfection as the “most direct treatment to inactivate or destroy pathogenic and other microbes in drinking water,” it also points out, “chloramine is weaker than chlorine, but approximately 10 times more difficult to remove.” The particular type of chloramine used in drinking water disinfection is called monochloramine. Monochloramine is a different chemical than the kind used in swimming pools, which cause skin, eye, and respiratory problems. They are not used interchangeably. While a common practice, not all cities use chloramine or chlorine disinfectants, opting for chlorine dioxide instead. Some water systems that tap into a groundwater source (like community wells) don’t have to add a disinfectant at all.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? THE EFFECTS OF CHLORAMINE EXPOSURE

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list any specific side effects to drinking water containing chloramines, stating on its website, “Current studies indicate that using or drinking water with small amounts of chloramine does not cause harmful health effects and provides protection against waterborne disease outbreaks. These studies reported no observed health effects from drinking water with chloramine levels of less than 50 mg/L in drinking water.” On its website, the EPA suggests a few mild side effects can occur: “Some people who use water containing chloramine in excess of the maximum residual disinfectant level could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose, stomach discomfort or anemia.” Furthermore, in a 30-page report available on their website, the EPA states, “EPA and CDC believe the benefits of drinking water disinfection outweigh the potential risks from disinfection byproducts” However, there are documented cases that disagree with these statements. Based in San Francisco, Cali., the Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) “a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise the public's level of awareness about chloramine and its health effects when used as a disinfectant in the water” offers evidence to the contrary. The CCAC has reported that after the San Francisco Public Utility Commission added chloramine into the water distribution system in February 2004, “many residents, unaware of the change in disinfection, suddenly began to experience adverse health effects: skin reactions (rashes, welts, blistering, dry skin, cracking, chapping, peeling, bleeding, burning sensations, scarring), respiratory symptoms (sneezing, wheezing, coughing, sinus/nasal congestion, asthma-like conditions), and digestive disorders (acid reflux and symptoms similar to IBS) plus dry eye and dry mouth.”

CHLORAMINE: SAFE LEVELS AND STANDARDS

The EPA says that chloramine levels up to 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 4 parts per million (ppm) are considered safe in drinking water. The CDC also states, “At these levels, no harmful health effects are likely to occur.” Rxceeding this regulated limit of disinfectant is enforceable.

TESTING WATER FOR CHLORAMINE

If you’re concerned about the quality of the water in your home, there are a few ways to learn about its safety and its chloramine level:

  1. Test the water yourself. Using an at-home kit, you can take a water sample and then mail it to a lab for analysis. An important note: Not all test kits are the same. Make sure the kit you purchase will test for the contaminants you are concerned about.
  2. Request a water quality report. All public water systems in the U.S. are required to keep chloramine levels at or below 4 mg/L and to routinely test contaminant levels. They are also required to provide customers with an annual Consumer Confidence Report that details the water quality in your community, just ask for a copy.
  3. Call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline for more information about drinking water safety in your area: 1-800-426-4791.

REMOVING CHLORAMINE: SOLUTIONS AND WATER TREATMENT OPTIONS

There are a few different chloramine filtration options for both drinking water and whole house filtration. A difficult contaminant to remove, it typically requires at least two or three filtration stages before your water can be considered “clear” of chloramines.

CHOOSING A FILTER

While there are a variety of filters on the market, these three systems are the top performers:

GOOD

BETTER

BEST

WHEN TO REPLACE THE FILTER

Regular replacement of the filter and/or cartridge is critical to maintaining their effectiveness and reducing bacterial contamination. An overused or out-of-date filter can become dangerous because the filter will no longer trap contaminants, allowing them to leach back into your water. For the safety of you and your loved ones, it’s important not to put off replacement too long. There are four effective ways of knowing when it’s time to replace your water filter:

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Their specified replacement timing will err on the side of caution so you can be assured that your water quality will always be safe.
  2. Measure usage. Install a filter measurement meter or filter monitor that connects to the incoming water line that feeds the filter system and measures the number of gallons that pass through. Then using the manufacturer’s recommended usage limit, program the monitor to alert you when you’ve reached the allowed number of gallons. You’ll know exactly when it’s time to replace the filter.
  3. Read your water bill. If your home is supplied with municipal water, your water bill will tell you exactly how much water is used monthly. Compare your actual usage to the manufacturer’s recommendation and plan the replacement accordingly.
  4. Monitor manually. If you have non-municipal water, the most cost effective method is to monitor your filter manually—either with your palate or a water testing kit. Start with routine water tests that look for lead, microorganisms and other contaminants to verify whether your filters are still removing them. For drinking water systems, simply fill a glass with water and check the flavor yourself. You’ll be able to see or taste when the filter is exhausted and no longer purifying your water because the water flavor will be unpleasant.

GET ADVICE

For answers to chloramine-related questions, recommendations on the best filter for your home or general drinking water questions, contact us.